Where Do the Carolina Hurricanes Go From Here?

by | Mar 11, 2018 | Soapbox | 4 comments

The Carolina Hurricanes surprised the NHL world last week by removing Ron Francis as general manager and making him president of hockey operations. The question now is, what direction will they take under his eventual replacement?

Francis’ “promotion” follows a similar path by the Florida Panthers two years ago. They kicked long-time general manager Dale Tallon upstairs in the president of hockey ops role and placed Tom Rowe into the GM chair.

That move lasted less than a year, during which the Panthers also dumped Gerard Gallant as head coach early in the 2016-17 campaign. They went on to miss the playoffs after winning the Atlantic Division crown in 2015-16 with a franchise-record 103-point performance. At season’s end, Tallon returned as general manager while Rowe was reduced to an advisory role.

Tom Dundon, who took over as majority owner in January, will try to avoid repeating that scenario. He apparently wasn’t pleased with Francis’ conservative style of team building. With the Hurricanes poised to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight year, Dundon felt the time was right for a management shakeup.

During Francis’ nearly four-year tenure as Hurricanes GM, he cleared up some much-needed salary-cap room and restocked their prospect pool. He also added scoring winger Teuvo Teravainen via trade and drafted winger Sebastian Aho and defenseman Noah Hanifin.

Francis, however, never made a player-for-player trade. He failed to adequately address the Hurricanes’ need for scoring punch, especially at center. Last summer’s acquisitions of goaltender Scott Darling and checking forwards Marcus Kruger and Josh Jooris did nothing to improve the club’s fortunes.

The Hurricanes aren’t wasting time finding a replacement for Francis.

 

Whoever they hire will be expected to make some bold moves starting this summer. Dundon will likely want significant, immediate results for next season.

Determining the fate of head coach Bill Peters could be the first decision. While Peters avoided the ax this time, the new GM could prefer hiring his own coaching staff. Dundon probably won’t stand in his way.

Turning to the Hurricanes roster, Cap Friendly indicates they have over $48.4-million invested in 12 players for 2018-19. Restricted free agents include Hanifin, forward Elias Lindholm and blueliner Trevor van Riemsdyk, while long-time Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward and winger Lee Stempniak are the noteworthy unrestricted free agents.

The Hurricanes won’t have to break the bank re-signing their key free agents. Hanifin, 21, is blossoming into a solid top-four defenseman and could be in line for a significant raise. As he’s coming off an entry-level deal, the new GM could try re-signing him to a short-term bridge deal. He could also follow Francis’ lead and re-sign the youngster to a lengthy affordable long-term contract similar to those of blueliners Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce.

Francis was reluctant to draw upon his blueline depth to bolster his offense, but his successor could be willing to go down that path. Hanifin, Slavin or Pesce could be dangled for an established young scorer. 

The Montreal Canadiens need defensive depth and forwards Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk were fixtures in this season’s trade-rumor mill. Perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs might part with William Nylander or Mitch Marner for someone such as Hanifin.

Another option could be free agency. If Dundon is willing to spend toward what could be an $80-million salary-cap ceiling, the Hurricanes will have plenty of dollars to bid competitively for the best UFA talent. Among their targets could be the New York Islanders’ John Tavares, Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, San Jose’s Evander Kane, Boston’s Rick Nash, Vegas’ James Neal or David Perron and Winnipeg’s Paul Stastny.

Having the ability to pay big bucks for the top free agents, however, doesn’t mean the Hurricanes will land any of them. It’ll take a considerable sell job to sway those veterans into joining a team struggling to emerge from nearly a decade of mediocrity. 

Goaltending will also be an issue for Francis’ successor. With Darling signed through 2020-21 at an annual salary-cap hit of $4.125-million and carrying a modified no-trade clause, shipping him out this summer could prove difficult. He’ll probably be retained for at least another season and given an opportunity to rebound from this season’s miserable effort. The 34-year-old Ward is well past his best-before date. He’ll likely be allowed to depart as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

This year’s free-agent goalie market, however, isn’t very deep, stocked with aging netminders past their prime (Kari Lehtonen, Jaroslav Halak, Ondrej Pavelec), veteran backups (Jonathan Bernier, Michael Hutchinson) and the once-promising Petr Mrazek. The trade market isn’t much better, with perhaps Buffalo’s Robin Lehner as the best of the bunch.

Dundon and new general manager must avoid the temptation to chase quick fixes via trades or free agency. Whatever moves they make must work for both the short and long term. They can’t fall into the trap of acquiring expensive veterans who become costly long-term busts, eating up valuable cap space and setting back their rebuilding efforts. 

 








4 Comments

  1. If anyone reads the title and thinks Quebec then shame on them!

  2. After reading the article I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to play for Carolina. 7 years millions of dollars to line in Carolina? Sign me up.

  3. I agree with Lyle’s comments and add the following:

    The comment that Ron Francis did not make a player for player trade has been re-quoted by many people but I think the original quote stated that Francis did not make a significant player for player trade. But why would anyone expect a rebuild to have many player for player trades. Rebuilds are done primarily through the draft, trades for prospects and player development. Ron Francis took over a team that had 3 top 6 forwards and one of the weakest group of forward prospects in the NHL. He added Aho through the draft, Teravainen through trade and Williams through free agency. I really don’t care how they were added, all I care about is that he filled the holes in the roster and pipeline is the best its ever been.

    The following is a list of Ron Francis trades:

    https://www.nhltradetracker.com/user/trade_list_by_GM/Ron_Francis/276

    On the defensive side Ron Francis could not trade a defenseman until his defense proved they could play at a high level consistently. One could argue they have yet to prove it. This season was Pesce and Slavin’s 3rd NHL season but their first as the top pairing. Going into this season Hanifin had not played a lot of top 4 minutes and Fleury didn’t have any NHL experience. I never expected Francis to trade a defenseman until after this season.

    The new GM will get credit by tweaking what Francis built. Carolina is now far enough into the rebuild to make a significant NHL player for player trade if necessary.

    The biggest challenge the new GM will have is fixing the goaltending which Francis has not improved in 4 years.
    Dundon sure looks like an owner that would go out of the box and sign an RFA offer sheet even if the new GM advised against it. Maybe that is how Carolina will solve their goaltending problem.

    Carolina’s offseason needs are a top 4 physical right handed defenseman, a top 6 20+ goal power forward that drives the net and has a consistent net front presence and a number 1 goalie.

    If Tom Dundon replaced Ron Francis because of not correcting the Goalie problem or not achieving last years off season plan or that he didn’t replace Peters I can rationalize the move even though I don’t like it. If he did it because he’s not happy with the consistency of the play on the ice, motivation of the players, and the worst OT record (53 losses so far) in the last 4 seasons then he either replaced the wrong guy or has not finished making changes.

  4. “Toronto Maple Leafs might part with William Nylander or Mitch Marner for someone such as Hanifin.” William might be a big maybe but if memory serves me right, Hanifin was available and the Leafs drafted Marner, the team’s current points leader. Why would anyone make that trade that involve him of all players?

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